MARCH 3, 1958
AUSTIN, Texas—I wish that the New York Herald Tribune editorial last Friday, entitled "Did Sputnik Wake Us Up?," could be reprinted in every paper in the United States. It called attention to several recent opinion surveys in this country on science, education and history, and commented on the appalling implications of the results obtained. What these surveys reveal is not that we need to copy the Russian system of education and set up more scholarships for scientists, but that we need to change our attitude in this country toward learning and knowledge, its value, and the respect due to those who take the trouble to learn.
This fundamental attitude, for example, is at the bottom of some of the ignorance cited among students of American history in Indiana. You may be shocked to read that, out of 90 university students quizzed on American history, only eight could identify the Bill of Rights! The explanation might be that in the state of Indiana there was for a time, with the help and influence of one of their Senators, so much fear of Communism and so little knowledge about it that few people would have dared to talk of the Bill of Rights for fear of being called Communistic!
That only four students knew what a "right to work" law is does not astonish me so much because the name is a misleading one. These bills have nothing to do with the right to work; they are anti-union bills. They are designed to force concessions upon the unions to a point where they cannot maintain a higher standard of wages for their workers, which is the only way they succeed in obtaining a higher standard for all workers, whether union or non-union. Also, since the population of the country constantly increases, it might be excusable if there was no great accuracy in remembering the exact estimate. But that no one could name the author of a good history of our country is shocking, for it reveals how little reading our young people now do.
Above everything else, however, the most disturbing revelation is the low opinion people in general have about the teaching profession. There is no question but that in our country we must raise the standards of preparation for teaching, increase the salaries, and recognize teachers in our communities as influential and respected people. Otherwise we will continue to have increasing trouble with juvenile delinquents and uneducated young people. We should remember Thomas Jefferson's admonition that democracy, which we have discovered through the years to be one of the most difficult forms of government, cannot function except with an educated electorate.
The first step is to increase teachers' salaries. The next is to give them better opportunities for education. Finally, every one of us must make it a point, in the locality in which we live, to know the teachers and to give them our support and help. They deserve a place of respect in the community, and they cannot expect to function successfully with their young people unless they are given this recognition.